Problems of Reading Servants – July 1903

Many old fashioned people are convinced that servants are not so trustworthy and do not work so diligently since education has become general among the lower classes. Perhaps one hears more of this talk in England where national education is of more recent date than in Scotland. It is quite common to hear elderly people say that in their young days, when servants could rarely read or write, they were more faithful workers.

Ability to read is certainly not an unmixed good in the matter of stealing time from work to read. I think lads are the greatest culprits. They have their penny novelettes with their tobacco in their inner pocket and when they are supposed to be weeding, if no watchful eye is upon them, they will lie in the lee of the dyke and forget everything in the exciting adventures of their penny hero. How often have I heard farmers complain of catching their boys in the barn or the byre, reading during working hours.

When we had lads and men sleeping in, we made futile attempts to put a stop to them reading in bed in the winter evenings and burning a candle to the socket everynight. I used to find blood curdling romances stuffed under the mattresses. We did not object to the romances but to the risk of the house being set on fire by the candle of the sleepy reader.

Ignoring for the moment the indisputable advantages of book education, the farmer, from his narrow personal standpoint, may be pardoned for saying that these boys did work better if they were unable to read.

The reading of girls is easier to control because, with the mistress or any of the family in the house, it is impossible for them to sit down in the midst of a morning’s work. On the matter of reading in bed too, one can exercise more authority, insisting on lights being out at a reasonable hour and that no books or papers be allowed in the bedroom.

It is a good plan to provide the maids with plenty of light literature if they care to look at it — our magazines and our weeklies when we have finished with them. They like illustrations, of course, as we do ourselves and the feminine pages contain plenty of fashions.

We had one girl — she was not a good one, but that is by the way — who never troubled us by staying out on winter evenings but spent every night poring over these — to her, fascinating, journals, reading every short story and apparently every article. She read faster than we could supply her and, having been seized with an intoxication for reading, she began to buy for herself. Her pennies were spent on “Scraps,” “Funny Bits” and the most outrageously illustrated of the lower class weeklies.

While giving due respect to reading, ourselves, we could not help feeling that this girl would have been better trained by spinning and sowing in the evening than by giving her time exclusively to reading. So that often we are inclined to think that the old folks were not altogether wrong in their opinion that thrift and industry were not increased in some classes by higher education.

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6 Responses to Problems of Reading Servants – July 1903

  1. These days she would gratefully surprised to catch anyone reading with such a passion. And judging by the waiting rooms, I would suspect that ‘the most outrageously illustrated of the lower class weeklies’ are still popular in not such a dissimilar guise. 🙂

  2. So wonderful! I have reblogged it!

  3. judithhb says:

    Where did you find this. It’s a fascinating glimpse back 100 years. Thank you.

    • dacj40 says:

      She was my Great Great Aunt, read the About stuff also the info on Angus MacDonald who compiled much of this with the intention of publishing it as a book. She wrote every week for over 30 years, there is an awful lot of material.

    • Hi Judith the whole blog is actual posts from a hundred years ago. go to the Gretchen site – the posts are real and her descendant reports them exactly. the writer wrote a newspaper column way back then so is probably one of the first women bloggers.

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